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US civil action filed against former Israeli PM over Gaza flotilla death

This marks the first time in which an Israeli and former prime minister has been sued in the US
Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak arrives for the Clinton Global Initiative in New York City last year (AFP)

Former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak is being sued in a US federal court for his involvement in the Israeli army's raid on the Gaza flotilla in 2010, a team of lawyers announced on Wednesday.

The lawsuit is being brought by the family of Furkan Dogan, a 19-year-old American citizen, who was on board the flotilla filming when he was shot five times, including once at point blank range in the head, the lawyers said.

The complaint accuses Barak of "international terrorism".

"This is a case brought by the parents Furkon Dagan," Dan Stormer, one the lawyers representing the Dogan family, told reporters in a news conference on Wednesday evening.

Stormer added that case will be brought under a host of different US laws, including Alien Tort Claims Act, the Torture Victims Protection Act, and the Anti-Terrorism Act.

On 31 May 2010, Israeli security forces raided the flotilla in international waters. According to lawyers representing the Dogan family, these soldiers were led and commanded by Ehud Barak, the minister of defence at the time. The attack killed 10 activists on the Mavi Mamara, one of the flotilla's ships.

The lawyers also stressed that the soldiers took command of the floatilla and towed every ship to the port of Israel, where they arrested the activists for illegally being in an Israeli port. The lawyers added that activists were tortured during that time.

"They left people in stress positions for as long as 12 hours, they prevented them from having access to family members. They prevented them from having toilet facilities, they beat them they tortured them, they gave them no medical treatment, and they treated them in a way that can only be described as torture," said Stormer.

Unprecedented lawsuit

Barak was giving a speech in southern California on Tuesday night when he was served with legal papers, according to a press release from the lawyers involved in the case.

This marks the first time in which an Israeli and former prime minister has been sued in the US.

Rodney Dixon, another lawyer representing the Dogan family, said: "We have for a number of years since the attack in 2010 been pursuing every possible legal avenue to obtain justice for the victims on the floatilla. We have gone to the International Criminal Court in the Hague, the ICC, and we have gone to several national jurisdictions to seek to launch criminal proceedings."

"Our legal work has been based on the long line of international precedents based on Nuremburg and Tokyo and recently Ugoslavia and Rwanda tribunals, which have all consistently held military and political leaders are not beyond the law. They can be held accountable for their actions. They are not entitled to indiscriminately target civilians as occurred that night on the flotilla," he added.

However, this suit does not necessarily mean Barak will be arrested. If he is charged guilty in court, he will most likely have to pay some sort of compensation, said Haydee Dijkscal, an American lawyer who works at the Hague and is part of the international team representing the Dogan family.

"There is not a long history of these types of cases. I can’t imagine that this will be anything less than tens of millions. It will be a massive reward," added Stormer.

Barak knew floatilla was solely humanitarian

As part of the flotilla, more than 700 human rights activists travelled on six ships in an attempt to bring humanitarian supplies to Gaza. The complaint argues that Barak planned and commanded the attack and interception of the flotilla.

"Barak is responsible and liable of the common plan, design and scheme unlawfully to attack the six vessels of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla and the civilian passengers on board which constituted ascts of international terrorism and result in extrajudicial killings, torture and cruel inhuman and other degrading treatment in violation of customary international law," the complaint filed in a US Federal Court in Central California says. 

Stormer believes that Israel deliberately knew that the floatilla was a humanitarian effort prior to the attack.

"They had every reason to believe that there are unarmed civilians who were there solely for purposes of humanitarian aid. They had every reason to believe that there are approximately 700 unarmed people solely for humanitarian purposes. Did they know that this particular young man was there? Not only did they not know, they did not care who they shot. They did not care who they killed, they did not care who they tortured. They did it to everyone on that flotilla," he told MEE.

According to Hakan Camuz, a spokesperson for the Dogan family, the stuff confiscated by Israeli soldiers during was "all humanitarian aid, including toys for children as well as pharmaceutical materials".
Barak has admitted responsibility for the attack.